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The Exhibition Rooms, London, SE19

The Exhibition Rooms
69-71 Westlow Hill
London SE19
Tel: 020 8761 1175

What most Londoners really crave (when they have had enough of their own four walls and can’t be bothered to cook) is to live near a cracking local restaurant. One that serves good food at affordable prices in a welcoming atmosphere. The lucky residents of leafy Crystal Palace have got just that in the form of The Exhibition Rooms. Situated in a buzzy parade of shops and only a five minute walk from the station, lies a unique setting akin to a classical drawing room in an upmarket London townhouse. The spacious and refined dining room is filled with personal touches in the form of the owners love of antiques. The interior is airy and uncluttered, with an eclectic mix of dark wooden tables, mismatched elegant chairs and stylish Italian chandeliers. Tables are well spaced with music played at a level just right for conversations to remain private.

The menu has plenty to tempt at the sort of prices that one doesn’t easily find in central London. To begin I tried a terrific plate of freshly picked Cornish crab with green papaya and mango, coriander and a zingy nam jim dressing. This was a dish of subtle Asian flavours that lingered on the palate and kicked my taste buds into touch nicely for the rest of the afternoon. With this I tried a glass of Klippenkop South African Chenin Blanc, and at only £5.00 seemed an incredible snip. My guest’s steak tartare came with a quail’s egg at the centre in a half shell and scored all round high marks in presentation, texture and flavour. In all there were nine starters to chose between, all around the £6.00-£7.00 mark. These included scallops with garlic and chilli and a squid, pancetta and chickpea broth.

The main courses included something for all appetites, from kids favourites, (burgers and fish and chips) through to proper grown up food. Including roasted salt marsh lamb served with puy lentils, crushed potatoes, black pudding and salsa verde and fried halibut with haricot blanc, Scottish griolles, truffle and vermouth veloute. As it was Sunday lunch I couldn’t resist a roast. There were two on that day, pork and beef. I ordered the pork and got the full Monty. All the trimmings, including a Yorkshire pud, plenty of apple sauce, loads of veg, including parsnips, carrots, beans and roast potatoes plus crispy crackling, all served with a rich gravy. A satisfying plate of flavours the meat being tasty and tender. A glass of Argentine Malbec with spicy flavour and a touch of tanin went down a treat. My guest tried the roasted saddle of Rutland venison served with rosti potatoes, braised cabbage and juniper juice. He said the red cabbage had a satisfying flavour a little like mulled wine and all the flavours on the plate blended perfectly with the succulent meat. A glass of Tempranillo held its own and complemented excellently.

Five puds were on offer, and included the rib sticker, sticky toffee pudding with vanilla ice-cream, white chocolate and raspberry cheesecake and orange panacotta with pineapple and pink peppercorns. It is an art to produce good panacotta and my guest was impressed with his. Adding that the flavour was good with just the right degree of ‘wobble’ which he stressed was an important factor and who am I to argue with a man of Italian extraction?

If you’re in the mood to relax with a glass of wine or a post or pre-dinner cocktail but don’t want to travel far, look no further than down the stairs. Awaiting you is a lounge bar with a very cool vibe, complete with funky zebra patterned sofas, cool music, and an area called The Boudoir, which is a great place to hang out with a group of friends. In the summer there’s also a terrace perfect for al fresco drinking.

The Exhibition Rooms has a great deal to offer, all at affordable prices. So if, like me, you enjoy hanging out in a relaxed atmosphere with your mates, you lucky South Londoners have now got somewhere right on your doorstep.

Louise Elgin. December 2008.

A three course meal for two with wine and water is around £40.00 a head.


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